US President-elect Donald Trump has formally nominated James Mattis, a retired 4-star Marine Corps general who has long voiced concerns about the threat posed by Iran, as the Defence Secretary to replace Ashton Carter. 66-year-old Mattis, who memorably said “it’s fun to shoot some people”, would add to a cabinet of national security super-hawks and signal a return to a more aggressive defence of American interests abroad.
“I am proud to nominate General James Mattis to Secretary of Defence. He is one of the most effective generals and extraordinary leaders of our time, who has committed his life to his love for our country,” Trump said in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
“General Mattis is the living embodiment of the Marine Corps motto, ‘Semper Fidelis,’ always faithful, and the American people are fortunate that a man of his character and integrity will now be the civilian leader atop the Department of Defense. Under his leadership, we will rebuild our military and alliances, destroy terrorists and face our enemies head on, and make America safe again,” Trump said.
If confirmed, Mattis would replace Carter who is scheduled to be in India this week on his farewell trip.
Mattis commanded at multiple levels during his 44- year career as an infantry Marine.
Before retiring in 2013, he was the Commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), directing military operations of more than 200,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines across the Middle East.
“I am honored by President-elect Trump’s nomination and his respect for the brave men and women of the Armed Forces of the US,” Mattis said.
“To the President-elect, our soon to be commander in chief, to our military personnel, to the talented civilians in the Department of Defence, and to the American people, I pledge the best of my abilities to ensuring a strong and secure America,” he said.
As a lieutenant colonel, Mattis commanded an assault battalion breaching the Iraqi minefields in Operation Desert Storm.
As a colonel, he commanded the 7th Marine Regiment and, on Pentagon duty, he served as the Department of Defence Executive Secretary. As a brigadier general, he was the Senior Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defence.
The retired four-star general, who was known as “Mad Dog,” was lauded for his leadership of Marines in the 2004 Battle of Falluja in Iraq – one of the bloodiest of the war. But he also attracted controversy in 2005 when he said “it’s fun to shoot some people” while addressing service members in San Diego.
Mattis would require a waiver from Congress to be eligible for the post, since a retired officer is needed to be out of uniform for at least seven years before taking control of the Pentagon responsibilities.
With Republicans in control on Capitol Hill and the general praise for the general’s career, the waiver would likely be a formality to obtain.
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Mattis led the Special Operation Forces against the Taliban in Afghanistan. As a major general, he commanded the First Marine Division during the initial attack and subsequent stability operations in Iraq. As a general, he served concurrently as the Commander of US Joint Forces Command and as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation.
As a two-star general, General Mattis led the First Marine Division from Kuwait to Baghdad in a matter of weeks in 2003, annihilating Saddam Hussein’s defences and reaching Baghdad faster and with fewer losses than anyone could have expected.
In November 2007, Mattis was promoted to four-star general. He became Commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM) in 2010 and directed operations across the Middle East before retiring in 2013.
Working closely with General Petraeus, General Mattis produced the Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, the definitive work on how the US military should deal with Iraqi insurgents.
He is co-editor of the book, Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military.